Like any good teacher, I was going to use today’s message to re-cap what I’ve said this last week in using the word ‘RAINBOW’ as a mnemonic for some themes. Something was said to me the other day about the rainbow, however, which I thought I’d share instead. I’m sharing it because I found myself reacting strongly to what was being said. That’s not to say that you will necessarily agree with me because what I’m talking about here is an emotional response. You may agree with the other person, you may have another view altogether, or the whole thing might just leave you cold.
The person was reflecting on the image of the rainbow because, of course, we’re seeing it everywhere with it being used as a thank you to NHS staff and care-workers. He said that the rainbow was a sign of hope. (All good so far!) Here’s the crunch-point for me. He then said, in the context of coronavirus, that we can’t see the rainbow yet because we’re still in the Ark. What! (For me, it was one of those head snaps up moments.) My first thought was that the rainbow is still there. That’s God’s promise in Genesis 9:13, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth”. The person then proceeded to ask the question what does it mean for us if we’re still in the Ark? That’s when it went from bad to worse! As a single woman, I wouldn’t even be in the Ark! Leaving aside that the only human beings in he Ark were just one particular family, the Ark was essentially full of couples. Then came the follow up question: What does the Ark teach us about proclaiming a message of hope? That it’s exclusive was what was running through my mind at this point!
Okay, I know it’s an analogy, but was it a good analogy? For starters, there certainly wouldn’t have been any ‘social distancing’ in the Ark. Is there another image from the Bible you would have drawn on to reflect the context in which we find ourselves today? Not an image as such, but my thoughts turned to where it says in Acts, “… and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47), which certainly wasn’t the case in the story of the Ark. Inclusivity is the message of hope we can bring today. I want to share a Gospel message that says in the small print “Exclusions do NOT apply”. In the words of Frederick William Faber’s hymn: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy … But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own”.
But this experience has also led me to think about what words and images do we use in worship that perhaps touch a nerve? What are the things we say and do which set hackles rising rather than offer a message of hope and comfort? That’s not to say that the words and images can necessarily be avoided because we’re emotional beings, with different life experiences which will affect how we receive things, and even that might be a case that something which affects us one day doesn’t affect us another. It’s rather about us becoming more aware of the impact our words may have and trying to make them hope-full.